Memo to Bill Keller: The Kids Love the Web (Also, Saul Hansell!)
Speaking in London last week, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller delivered a speech that sounded suspiciously like the grumpy rants of Hollywood moguls of late, who don’t like this digital thing one little bit.
To his credit, Keller (pictured here) spent the start of the speech in honor of the late legendary Guardian columnist Hugo Young expertly dissecting the appalling attitude of the Bush administration toward the free press.
Kudos to that. But then he could not resist that tiresome tendency of many mainstream journalists to blame the explosion in the popularity of the Internet for the woes of the newspaper industry.
Dubbing the Internet a “media tsunami” and calling much of what is out there “unreliable,” Keller pilloried sites like Wikipedia and Google News for not having things like foreign bureaus in war zones and because they don’t create content and do aggregate it from other media.
It’s a little odd, though, to insult such Web products for doing exactly what they do–neither Google News nor Wikipedia has ever claimed to perform the function of a news organization like the Times.
Actually, I think Keller’s real problem is the audience, especially young people, who are increasingly using those sites and others.
The fact of the matter for an awfully long time now is that consumers of information are sampling all over the Web and don’t just rely solely on the New York Times for info.
That’s too bad for Keller, I guess, but not bad at all for consumers, who Keller never assumes are discerning at understanding what they are getting. But they are and are simply not a mass of dumb sheep just taking it all in and not questioning anything.
While I realize Keller and others are nervous about the confusion caused by the great mass of information on the Web–too much of it inane, incorrect and even, yes, made up–I have always thought most readers are a lot smarter than a room full of journalists could ever be.
Now before the Rupert-Murdoch-owns-Dow-Jones-now accusations start, let me say I love the New York Times and consider it one of the greatest news organizations around. Of course, I read it daily (well, I read it daily online only, to be specific).
And I agree with a lot of what Keller said in his speech about the need for accuracy over speed and the importance of standards-based reporting online as it is done offline.
But I cannot imagine he lives in the present-day world when he claimed in the speech: “Most of the blog world does not even attempt to report. It recycles. It riffs on the news. That’s not bad. It’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.”
This is simply not true going forward, and he should have done some reporting on the subject to find out. There is an ever-increasing number of online outlets who are doing most excellent online reporting.
Not enough, of course, never enough, but it is a clear trend in almost every category.
Um, Bill, reporting would be nice here too, even at your own media organization. You might want to check out Saul Hansell’s stuff in the Bits blog, as it is full of news. And, I personally learn a ton from Virginia Heffernan’s Medium blog. But that’s just me!
Keller also woefully misrepresented what blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine thinks: “Jeff, like many of the most ardent true believers in the blog revolution, suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd.”
“First, I have never said that the crowd of bloggers would replace mainstream media and professional journalism. That’s a red herring that is too often attributed presumptively to bloggers and their advocates,” he wrote in a long post. “It’s never properly cited because it can’t be. Where’s the link to the quote with me saying that? It’s fiction. I don’t say that. I don’t believe that.”
I don’t either. And, what was also ironic was that Keller was speaking in tribute to the Guardian’s always sharp Young, whom Keller quoted:
“The duty of elucidation falls more heavily on the columnist than simple side-taking, and I hope the complexities, and my sense of agonized indecision, show through the prose.”
Noted Keller about the impact of Young on him: “I don’t know how successful I was at elucidation in my own columns, but I had no shortage of agonized indecision, and I consider that a point of pride. If we have a higher purpose, those of us in the press, I think it is to challenge lazy certainty, conventional wisdom and complacency.”
Yes, we should definitely challenge that.
Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.